Microsoft Ignite: Demystifying the Future of Skype for Business
One of the big announcements from Day 1 of Microsoft Ignite 2017 lost a little steam due to an accidental leak a couple of weeks ago. Some Office 365 admins were greeted with a message announcing that, in a year, Skype for Business (SfB) Online would be absorbed into Microsoft Teams. The suddenness of the announcement had many admins scrambling and concerned, with little info coming from Microsoft. Well, yesterday Microsoft finally opened up about the future of Skype for Business Server, Skype for Business Online and Microsoft Teams.
First, and probably most importantly, at no time was a date given for the demise of any version of Skype for Business. In fact, quite the opposite was shared with attendees. Both products will continue to exist and features will continue to be added for the foreseeable future. A new version of Skype for Business Server was even announced for the second half of 2018. Microsoft made it clear that if you have an investment in an on-prem solution, you should not be concerned.
No features of Skype for Business Online are being removed or forced over to Microsoft Teams. It will continue to live on as long as is needed. In the meantime, more “Skype-Like” features are being added to Teams.
Microsoft Teams was announced as the “hero” application for Office 365 communications. The vision for Teams is that it is the core communications center for all Office 365 users, regardless of the communication medium in use. While this announcement is clearly important as a shift in how Office 365 will be used in the future, the more important announcement was around the backend architecture of the Teams Voice, Chat, Video and Meetings. A brand-new architecture is in place that is based on native Skype, leaving the legacy Lync architecture that runs SfB. This will improve meeting quality as the platform is already a proven communications channel.
The downside of this new architecture, though, is that it does not have all the call routing and management capabilities of SfB. Microsoft demonstrated voice and video calls initiated from Teams (not using Skype for Business), and the ability to add PSTN users into conference calls. The calls have basic features like hold and transfer, but no advanced PBX features.
Within an organization, you can selectively move people from SfB to Teams and they will still be able to communicate with one another as they always have. The SfB users may have some limitations when communicating to Teams, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. Migrating users is a simple process, done from inside a new Office 365 Admin console that is being rolled out to tenants now.
If you have an investment in SfB hardware, such as phones and room systems, don’t worry. These systems will remain compatible with the Teams environment. In addition, new systems will be coming that will have more Teams-specific features.
So, this is all great, right? But is it the correct path for your company? Great question and one that doesn’t have just one answer. First, you need to look at the features you use and require for voice and video and see if those features are part of Teams. If they aren’t, it is obviously too soon for you to switch. If you’re doing basic telephony and meetings and don’t have regulatory requirements (more on that shortly), then Teams might be a good switch for you.
If you have regulatory or corporate policy needs, now may not be the time for you. During the presentation, it was kind of snuck in that diverse data centers is coming to Teams next year, which means it isn’t here now. That may be a deciding factor for some when it comes to moving core communications to the platform. In addition, there still does not seem to be an answer to chat archiving in Teams. Nothing was mentioned during the presentations on this topic, and after discussing it with a few Microsoft engineers afterward, there were no solutions offered. If you require your IM chats to be archived today, then you will want to hold off on Teams.
To summarize how I took the information, it was not an announcement of the death of Skype for Business, but an announcement of new features in Teams, and Microsoft continues to push the adoption of what is becoming their flagship tool in Office 365. Eventually the two products will become one, but there is no date circled on the calendar. As one Microsoft engineer described it to me, think of it as two paths that today are miles apart from one another, but are slowly converging. Someday they will become one, but that day is not anytime soon.
If you are interested in learning more about Teams and how it might benefit your environment, contact Arraya for a conversation around collaboration and communication.